A couple of players with ties to the St. Louis Cardinals are in the news for the Pinstripers from New York.
First baseman/outfielder Shelley Duncan, son of Cards pitching coach Dave and brother of outfielder Chris, has been designated for assignment by the Yankees. It wasn’t a huge surprise, as the 29-year-old has a meager career .221/.299/.435 line in 131 MLB at-bats over the last two seasons, not to mention the fact the New Yorkers need roster space for all their new, high-priced free agent talent.
The designation means Duncan is off New York’s 40-man roster, but could be claimed by another organization. If not, he will likely report to the Yanks’ Triple-A club in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
At the same time, the Yankees added a former Yankee farmhand and Cardinals major leaguer, John Rodriguez, who some Yankees watchers think might play into the Duncan replacement equation. However, Rodriguez was signed to a minor league deal, so would have to play his way into the picture in the spring.
A Staten Island resident, Rodriguez originally joined the Yankees farm system after signing as a non-drafted free agent 13 years ago, in 1996. He slowly worked his way up through the Yankees minor leagues for eight years before becoming a minor league free agent for the second straight year following the 2004 season.
Instead of returning to the Yanks’ Triple-A club for a third straight year, he instead signed a minor league deal with the Indians in 2005. After being traded to the Cardinals that July for a major league catcher named Javier Cardona, Rodriguez smoked the ball in Memphis.
He batted .342 with 17 home runs in 34 games in Triple-A before making his MLB debut on July 18, 2005, replacing DL’ed Reggie Sanders. Rodriguez continued on fire, hitting in his first six games and ten starts.
The self-styled “J-Rod”, never short on confidence, couldn’t quite back up the swagger during his remaining time in the Cardinals organization. Known more for his bat than his baserunning or defense, Rodriguez still was given a decent amount of playing time through the rest of 2005 as he delivered a solid .295/.382/.436 (BA/OBP/SLG) debut. His stay in the headlines was more of Bo Hart-like in duration.
Rodriguez broke camp with the Cardinals in 2006, his only year to do so. He eventually batted .301 overall, but didn’t see regular playing time. The left-handed batter pinch-hit in 47 of his 102 games played and was returned to Memphis from early August until rosters expanded on September 1. He still led the club with 11 pinch-hits but went 0-for-6 in his second year of post-season action.
Partially squeezed out by the off-season signing of Preston Wilson and later plagued by shoulder and knee injuries in 2007, Rodriguez spent the entire season on Memphis’ roster, with at least three prolonged stints on the disabled list. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in late July which ended his season and his Cardinals career.
Ultimately, the emergence of Chris Duncan, then Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel and Skip Schumaker coupled with his own injuries pushed him out of the Cards’ major league picture. When Cesar Izturis was signed in November 2007, Rodriguez was designated for assignment, then released by the Cardinals.
Rodriguez, who turns 31 in two weeks, signed a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays for 2008. He was invited to major league camp, but was sent back to the minors. Last season, the left-handed hitter managed just 210 at-bats in 69 games between the Rays’ and Mets’ Triple-A clubs. Rodriguez had been released by the Rays in June and quickly signed with the Mets. He was again a minor league free agent this winter.
To date, Rodriguez’ career 332 major league at-bats were all amassed with the 2005 and 2006 Cardinals. “J-Rod”, if that is still what he is calling himself today, has an uphill battle to make it back to the show again.